Archive for April, 2007

Handguns and Raw Nerves

April 27th, 2007

Cross-posted at Left Ahead! and Marry in Massachusetts. This promiscuous cross-posting is a first for me, but we ended up kicking the handguns issue up and down the hall in our podcast. Previously, my regular blogs had a related post.

Sometimes I go out of my way to offend people and other times it just seems to happen.

If you picked up on the Bubbling Cauldron podcast this week with the handguns discussion, you might want to head over to the original comments and counterpoints that led to the topic.

I originally stifled handgun remarks as long as I could before posting. As well as our podcast, this led to very different and rather unstereotypical rejoinders at Scratches, a chum’s blog. As I, he also bubbled over here and here and here.

You might not think of it from our posts and comments, but we actually are fairly civil, even in our disagreements. He and I share a profession, but come from sufficiently different backgrounds to make discussions sometimes tense and often unpredictable. We don’t go for how ’bout them Sox or the like.

I see a gate opening, leading to a long journey here. I still find America to be socially slow. Here, I see a progressive opportunity to work actively to make major changes in our handgun-loving culture.

Over at Scratches, Uncle has a very different perspective. Yet, it’s not the stereotypical, “Don’t you dare touch my guns!”

I suspect each of us would welcome comments on the subject. We concur that the Democrats have been absolute cowards about addressing this and the related issues of violence…on the street, at home, in the schools and elsewhere.

I see this as the time for change.

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Guns in a Less Simple Time

April 22nd, 2007

Cross-posted from Marry in Massachusetts.

The political carrion beetles feasted following the Cho massacre at Virginia Tech. Right, left, libertarian, pro or anti-gun, and on and on grasped single grains of information and grew huge plants, no whole orchards, from them.

Disclaimer: I had one and then a second post on my eldest son headed to the campus the evening of the murders. That was not what a parent wants to ponder. In mine, you won’t find blame for anyone.

Reading buckets of ink or electron coverage of it, I find myself reacting to the excessive and multi-directional gun-control comments, as well as the lack of musing on the class issues.

I claim fair-use to the Rosemary Wells phrase from her Max’s First Word early reader. I also strongly recommend this series. Both the kids and adults involved in reading them can tolerate the hundreds of repetitions.

I am also sorry if a cartoon image seems inappropriate in relation to this horrific occurrence and its aftermath. Yet, this reflects the self-absorbed and comic nature of gun debate that has already followed.

A future post deals with the obvious class undercurrents. First though, the arguments about guns brought Max to mind. Throughout the book, despite the entreaties and guile of his sister Ruby to speak other words, Max will only say, “Bang!”

Indeed, on the early afternoon following the Blacksburg tragedy, wing nuts, reactionaries, righty pundits and their ilk were filling the internet and broadcast pipes with screeds about how gun ownership has nothing to do with mass murder using guns. Browning forbid that they found anyone suggesting tighter restrictions on handguns.

Even some not so berserk chums, like here, give reasoned apologies for handguns, tying ownership to libertarian ideals. No discussion of the standard, moot arguments follows. You can find those in internet searches in general or Technorati ones in particular. You can find the National Rifle Association comic-b0ok treatment of in-school murder by guns. Also, likely the guy most in need of asbestos underwear this month will be Salon’s Washington bureau chief, Walter Shapiro, following his call to Repeal the Second Amendment.

Pertinently, Australia had a very similar massacre by guns that led precipitously to a fix that seems to have worked. In addition. they had a similar wild-west type of mentality even in city dwellers that they faced and overcame. Europeans quickly had to drop Aussies from their ridicule about a gun culture and concentrate exclusively on us among first-world nations.

An overview of mass shootings in the United States is here. About a third of the way in, you find this as well:

Australia had a spate of mass public shooting in the 1980s and ’90s, culminating in 1996, when Martin Bryant opened fire at the Port Arthur Historical Site in Tasmania with an AR-15 assault rifle, killing 35 people.Within two weeks the government had enacted strict gun control laws that included a ban on semiautomatic rifles. There has not been a mass shooting in Australia since.

Yet, in the same this-but-that article, some folk including a criminologist say that gun availability is no biggie, certainly not a cause. This seems to be an abortion-level hot button.

Thus, we return to the American stalemate. Well over half of the population in every poll favors more gun control and fewer guns. They are not the loud ones that politicians hear or from whom they get contributions. That’s simple enough.

Supposedly we now have more handguns than Americans. In itself, this suggests that were we to implement vastly stricter gun licensing, permitting and punishment for violations, it would take decades to reduce the number of guns to even the number that would accommodate one or two rifles or shotguns per hunter and a handgun for domestic protection.

It is difficult to seriously consider the extreme anti-gun-control types’ arguments in light of U.S. death and injury figures due to handguns. Consider the graphic in today’s New York Times. Nearly 30,000 Americans die annually from being shot, and over 64,000 are injured. From 18 to 40, the most common deaths are black men being murdered. Over that age, it is white men killing themselves with handguns.

The wheezing argument that the violent types would use a knife, club or whatever is not convincing, particularly so for mass murders by gun, easily available gun.

Short of having walk-in or drive-in psychologists on every corner like convenience stores or gas stations, migrating from a bullet-centric culture seems the most workable. Clearly, this is not a simple or politically popular solution, even with the poll figures favoring gun restrictions.

I rather doubt that the Cho massacre will lead to the national soul searching and directional change that Australia experienced. It may more such horrors to tip the debate.

I think of my own family and friends. My beloved grandfather did not kill animals for sport (although he ate them). His son and his son’s sons did. My many great-uncles did too, but I think more for the fraternal experience and beer instead of the 14-point buck they stalked. Several of their sons and one long-term friend were life-long law enforcement types — county or state police or sheriffs. None of them would be without a pistol in the bedside table drawer.

Yet, at the same time, they each and all have faced the calls for adults, teens and even toddlers who died from accidental gun discharge. While they all favor having a gun for that extremely unlikely home invasion, they decry when someone is enraged or otherwise temporarily out of control, has access to a gun, and uses it on another. Those people shouldn’t have had guns. Then all of the good intentions of proper training and weapon storage become meaningless, and, of course, undercut the NRA positions.

Yet, even I was not prepared to see some of the right-wing articles and blog posts postulating the all-American gory glory if only every student on the Virginia Tech campus has been armed and trained to use guns. Boy, or boy, some wrote, that murderer wouldn’t have stood a chance.

As a boomer, I grew up on such westerns. Those were simple times for my immature mind and emotions. White hats, black hats, good guys, villains…that was simple and satisfying. The good guys had to win, even if they took one to the shoulder and even if they had to shoot it out with the bad guy.

I confess that I understand the appeal and feel the emotional pull of such binary theatrics. However, most of the world has evolved beyond the wild-west drama. Most countries, except for a few Asian ones and numerous non-democracies, have also outlawed or not used capital punishment for decades.

Many of the libertarian bent deride those who would reduce handgun ownership and restrict acquisition and require registration. Some say those folk are anti-Constitution and pseudo-progressives.

I confess that there are status quo components I would defend and keep. As you might imagine from this blog, Massachusetts same-sex marriage is one of those.

I understand that those who want to retain the privilege, or as they say right, to a handgun in every nightstand see that as a status quo worthy of fighting to maintain. I disagree strongly. We really don’t need to look beyond the tiny number of folk who claim to have prevented a crime because they carried a handgun versus the daily murders and accidental firearms deaths — nearly 100 Americans a day.

In an ideal world, every gun owner would be of pure heart, sound mind, excellent marksmanship, and not susceptible to the emotions that would have him turn his weapon of protection to an tool for murder. Then again, in an ideal world, we’d have no criminals and no need to anyone to own a handgun.

No one should wait patiently for either ideal.

Over the past several years, I have noted numerous areas in which we as a nation are socially slow. Gay rights and same-sex marriage are among these. Handguns for all is yet another.

It may take 30 years for us to accept the need to moderation and act on it. Hmm, that may be the same time period for same-sex marriage.

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Blacksburg Outskirts

April 18th, 2007

Cross-posted from Marry in Massachusetts

For those who asked about Son #1 coming to the Virginia Tech campus on the evening of the massacre, he reported it was surprisingly unremarkable. He is staying just off campus and training in a Tech facility. He is well.

He and a co-worker shared the Ramada with other guests including ABC and CBS news crews. As he put it also, “They’re loud late.” That is the entitlement I recall from my own news hound days.

As a parental unit, I was concerned with his well being. Beyond that, his vignette from this training included:

The boss of the group of co-workers I am visiting lost a family friend, Prof. Loganathan.  She asserted that in India death is such a commonplace that she is not struck by it the way the Americans are, and proved it by being relentlessly merry all day.  It was a little disconcerting.

That is indeed a culturally different perspective. It may well relate to her religion as well. In our heart of hearts, we all know from childhood that each of us is a terminal patient here.

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Shock of the Real

April 17th, 2007

The Virginia Tech massacre has folk scrambling to identify. Of course, for those who loved or at least knew the dead or injured, we risk the worst sort of pretension.

I have my own minor connections and I sense the drive to claim this as a touchstone. Perhaps that need is more empathy than undeserving ownership.

As a nation and larger world, we certainly live in the post-tragic era. The calliopes of TV and cable and now internet news blare and blur real and imagined horror. For their purposes, every death is a tragedy, whether of by predictable drug overdose or a genocidal slaughter. There’s no need to distinguish if it fills time or space and brings in advertising.

When we do confront an event of true tragic proportion and nature, we can fail to grok and honor it. Such with the dozens of dead in Blacksburg.

I ended up turning off the local news as it cranked up its own cynical calliope. One station, for example, scrambled to pull B.U. students off the rainy streets. The reporter was actually asking the stupidest of provincial questions — What did it mean to them? Could it happen here? Us…us…us.

Well, it wasn’t about Boston or Boston University or who texted a friend at another Southern college to get likewise trivial comments.

My own pause-generating moments were only a little less trivial. I don’t know anyone who attends Tech, but my oldest son was flying and driving there on the evening of the murders. He has a new job that uses Tech facilities for its training.

A parent does not want to know that his son is heading into the mouth of hell, even if the day’s murders have finished, almost certainly. Yes, parents are like that.

My frame of reference on Blacksburg is now totally tarnished and skewed. I spent much of my childhood in Southern Virginia, not far from there. We spent time there and went to Methodist Youth Fellowship retreats on the campus. About the ages of my two youngest, I recall the beauty of the campus and the area. The students seemed huge and very confident to a teen.

Those visions are of another time in that place.

So, my eldest did send email to let me know that he would arrive late in the evening and did not anticipate any problems related to the massacre and its aftermath. That is partial reassurance.

I can only project what it must be like to have a child headed into a combat zone for more than a year.

Let us accept and reflect that the murders in Blacksburg are tragic. No matter how often and how badly the news outlets have misused that word, it is apt here.

This may lead to the level and kind of introspection and other examination that can do two things: 1) Help those dealing directly with the effects, and 2) Lead to decisions that may prevent another such tragedy.

We can never know what the young people murdered yesterday might have done. Some may have brought happiness or healing to many. Given the school, some may have become inventors or entrepreneurs bringing ease or creating wealth and jobs. Some may have become humanitarians. We can never know and the surmising is itself tragic.

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Fie on April Nor’easters!

April 14th, 2007

Funereal Rose
A rose from Mt. Hope Cemetery (British Charitable Society).

Woodbourne crocuses

A crocus pushing aside maple leaves in my front yard.

Neither granite flowers nor living ones take heed of severe storm warnings.

Thumbnail note:

A small click yields a larger image.

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I Sing of Olaf

April 13th, 2007

In my cult — New England UUs — we’re supposed to drive Volvos. I do. I’m well into my second 100,000 miles on the 12 year old 850.

When it bleeds, even water, I fret.

That can largely explain the potential joy at the possibility of a sink hole in front of my house in JP. This is mild version of sacrificing the populace to save your child.

Volvo logoOver the wet, wet winter, my silvery steed began to leak. We call it by a good, Swedish name, Olaf, and I felt protective when I got in the driver’s seat on November day and noticed a pool on the passenger’s floor mat. It was a cup or two of water in the rubber mat.

It was easy enough to toss out. There was no harm. However, I wondered which of my boys had dumped his water bottle there. They both denied any culpability, but that is often the starting point for an investigation.

It happened again and then again. A few days after a steady rain, but not during the rain, water appears in the mat. I moved a towel to the interior for mop up. I popped the hood and wedged myself under the dash in unsuccessful efforts to find a source for the leak.

I tracked down the Hayes repair manual for the 850, only to find zero mention of the venting system or any procedures for safely opening up the air works. It had a detailed and in this case utterly useless procedure, with drawing, of how to replace an interior fan, but no diagrams of the air flow system.

An unsuccessful Goggle and Yahoo inquiry indicated that this is in no one’s FAQ and is not a common problem. Olaf had a special disease or deformity.

Then as suddenly as the pooling started, it stopped. The rain continued, as did snow and sleet, both of which insisted on melting.

Finally, two weeks ago, the end seemed at hand. I would have to deliver Olaf to Volvo Village. Unlike WE FIX ALL MAKES OF FOREIGN CARS, they really do fix Volvos. Trying to save the five-mile trip never pays off. If the panacean auto shops can figure out the problem (rare), they can’t get the parts for an extra day or two or four.

One morning, I came out to find a big water mark under Olaf, under the hood, under both wheels and into the gutter. It had to be a pint or more. It was none of the fluids that might have spread from a dying component. There was no color, no smell, no oily or greasy consistency. It couldn’t be from the radiator, transmission, steering, oil pan or the like. Olaf’s engine was crying huge tears of some sort.

This continued during the week. I had an evening meeting in Burlington. In some sort of talismanic ritual, I put a gallon of water in the back, in case…in case of something. Well, it made me feel better.

Then after a week of anxiety and mechanical impotence, Olaf took a back seat. Rather, my wife returned with her van before I did from a trip and took the front space. I don’t mind backing into a space, but for her convenience, whoever gets home to two empty spaces pulls into the front one.

Mirabile dictu! The next morning, her van had the weeping pavement!

Sure enough, when I jumped up and down on the street, water oozed up from a crack, exactly where our vehcicles’ drivers front wheel would sit. Isn’t it wonderful that the city plumbing and not Olaf is collapsing?

A couple of messages to Boston Sewer and Water brought a crew of five, plus the backhoe guy and later the two with the asphalt truck. It turns out that the feeder pipe to the house across the street off the water main was split and gushing.

Later in the day, the belching spigots spewing gray water and air brought us back to liquid normalcy.

Now, if I can only find out what make an 850 leak into the interior…

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Peek with Mini-Blogging Voyeurism

April 11th, 2007

twittervision screen captureCyber play for attention-deficit adults suddenly is the fad of the decade. twitter, twittervision and tumblr are the mind numbing time sinks of these naught years.

These and their demented siblings bill themselves, honest to Berners-Lee, as communication for those too lazy to blog or read blogs, and those bad with words. They are, in fact, quick and easy; they also take the effort and intellect out of writing and reading.

MSM, including the Financial Times, have begun covering Twitter-type snippets . We may see it next in the Boston Herald.

Irksome Policy: The FT link like almost all of its requires an online subscription. Even the daily paper customers need one.

You can judge the efficacy and value of these services and sites directly. Head over to twittervision or try the popular sites listed at the bottom of the tumblr home. To either excursion, you’re likely to think, “This is great!” or “This is stupid!”

If you pardon the highfalutin term for a very low-brow technology, these systems share a philosophy. That is that phrases or one and two-line stream of consciousness comments are worth your time and mine. Imagine sitting in a room with some drunks and some folk wired on caffeine. They bark whatever idea comes to mind.

These systems seem to be the spawn of texting. Each has been around for a year or two. They quickly maxed on features, basically because there is intentionally such a small set.

In many ways, the most advanced is twittervision, as in the capture up top. It combines the snippets from members around the globe with Google Maps. Users type in their mini-messages, which the system serves up one at a time for a few seconds.

Then it’s Whack-A-Mole style. Click on the name of a poster (are twitter users twits?) in the pop-up — if you’re quick enough — and a page of the recent drivel appears. Some pop-ups have a visible phrase or sentence. Others just show an image, often an icon of the poster’s face. All have voting like/dislike buttons and a link to a page of recent messages. Again, you have to be in the video-game mode and quick to click.

Apparently people watch their twittervision screens for hours at a time. It brings to mind blip-verts from the old Max Headroom shows. We’re betting that twittervision lacks the lethal side-effect.

Many tumblr users seem to have longer attention spans. They can put in links, pix and even vids, as shown by one entry below on Jim Jones.


Monkey salesman

Jim Jones

He obtained a bachelors degree at Butler University in 1961, and after graduate school from Indiana University in Bloomington, IN, Jim sold pet monkeys door-to-door to raise the money to fund his own church that would be named Wings of Deliverance.

Originality is in packaging, not content. Analysis, writing or other value added is so 20th Century and before. As tumblr’s FAQ boasts, “Tumblelogs are like blogs with less fuss. Blogs are great, but they can be a lot of work. And they’re really built to handle longer-form text posts. Tumblelogs, on the other hand, let you easily and quickly post and share anything you find or create. “Similarly, twittervision defines itself simply as “A real-time geographic visualization of posts to Twitter. Samuel Morse, meet Carl Jung.” You join twitter and post to have your location and image appear from your feed. Then “Sit back and enjoy the show!”In old stoner, oh-wow days, this would have amused us college students no end. Maybe it’s good to see that a Boomer legacy can drag down all the new technology and development to raw voyeurism and passive, open-mouthed slacking.Twitter limits computer or phone generated messages to 140 characters. Even with some tens of thousands of users for each of these systems, there’s a good chance any single message burst will go unread, uncommented on and un-judged. As the FT quoted Obvious Corp. twitter inventor Jack Dorsey, “You are basically writing on a wall and if someone chooses to read it they can do.”

Tumblr’s founder David Karp is plain about the simple-minded nature of this apparently addictive system. “Blogs are great if you want to hammer out commentary, but what if you’re not particularly comfortable as a writer. There are a lot of people who just want to share stff and we wanted to make a simple, shallow funnel for them.”

The dichotomy is sharp. Users have to be self-absorbed enough to suppose that someone will enjoy, be amused by or think about their passing idea. Yet, they have to be Buddhist enough to most of these outbursts are like passing wind in the desert — having little effect and likely not noticed at all.

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Yellow Jacket Gang in Concord

April 1st, 2007

I may be too sensitive for the harsh, competitive suburban life. The cascading shocks of life in Concord and Carlisle were almost too much to bear.

We arrived at Walden Pond to park and connect the eighth grader with his church group for a walk to the original Thoreau cabin site and a discourse on Universalism and Transcendentalism. I was supposed to disappear for an hour an one half while the minister or kids’ mentors shared wit, wisdom and whimsy while walking.

I Am Oblivious

A minor inconvenience at the unattended entry gatehouse was to find after waiting for six vehicles to slowly clear was that the automated ticket dispenser was way to 20th Century. Of course, most ATMs tend to regurgitate only $20s. The machine had a big sign reading that it did not accept $20 bills. A nearby sign informed you that if you did not have a current ticket on your dashboard, you got a pricey fine.

Here is one proof of how ensured to and eroded by city life I am. My son had already announced repeatedly that he wanted a soda, we were 20 minutes early, and I took this as a message that I could check the road I’d shortly ride, while simultaneously slaking a thirst (and later preventing xerostomatic complaints), spend a little time, and get change for the nasty little machine.

While I was finding out how unyielding and unaccommodating the machine was, a couple came behind me to do the same. They were clearly not so complacent and much more entitled. The woman literally stomped and she held forth is high volume about the unfairness and stupidity of the situation. “This sucks!,” she concluded and they left red faced.

Personal Theater

A couple of miles away at the Gulf station at the edge of Concord Center, we found a mini-mini-mart, a Cumberland Farms sized only for the munchies. There was more of the suburban tragedy playing there. Whenever a vehicle approached the gas pumps, an annoying bell and red light went off inside and outside the building.

That became remarkable only because the solo clerk could not seem to wrest himself from watching the pumps. I stood at the counter with a Mountain Dew for my lad and after seeming to convince himself that I was serious about the purchase, the clerk fully entered the door to ring me up. He looked more at the pumps than the task at hand.

His personal calamity quickly became obvious and specific. He was an argument for Scientology, he had been, as L. Ron. Hubbard would describe it, engrammed. A recent terrible event had occurred, transforming his life.

The driver of a large pickup had driven away without paying his $75 gas tab. The station apparently lets folk pump first — we cynical city folk would never allow that. The true scarring factor was that the clerk had to make up the $75 or quit, rules of the house. Now in reaction, he plays sentry, lest some other dastard fool him again.

As I was locating the MD, whenever the beep and light told of a vehicle crossing by the pumps, he could call out, “It never stops.” Indeed, here was a lesser Prometheus getting his liver torn out again and again.

When he was making change for the soda, he told me the sad story. He first said, “I thought Concord was a nice place.” Later it turned it to me for ethical judgment. “What would you do if you had to pay the $75 or lose the job? Is that fair?”

In light of his personal tragedy, driving a short distance for change had a new perspective. I hope that very unhappy and indignant couple received a similar enlightenment, and then returned to see the not real and not in the real place Thoreau cabin.

A Terror Ignored

Upon our crossing the parking lot after successfully displaying our day pass on the dash, we passed two couples heading toward the gift shop behind us. There was another angry local. This time, one of them had asked whether they could head into town afterward to see Concord.

Fortunately, one of other couple was savvy enough to save them from an awful fate. She announced (do all suburbanites yell a lot?), “Absolutely not! Parking in Concord Center is HELL!”

Here again, I suddenly realized how out of synch with the real world I am. As a city kid, I walk all the time. In my naïveté, I had seen Concord on previous visits as pretty uncrowded. A half block to a block from the few short main streets are open curbside parking.

I clearly do not know what’s important. That wise woman surely would have ripped into me if she had known that I won’t circle a grocery parking lot for the closest space. Moreover, I won’t park in a handicapped space nor one for moms with young kids nor in a fire lane. Who knows how much shoe leather, time and energy I have wasted over the years. I clearly do not think highly enough of myself.

Next, I swapped supervision of my son with two ministers and got my road shoes on. As soon as I crossed Route 2, I found out that I had not gotten the yellow-jacket memo.

Gray Beard Gang

This is another stigma of the city. I am so ashamed.

Everyone on a cycle it seems, everyone except I that is, had a yellow jacket of one brand or another. These are so visible that they actually are pretty smart for country roads. My wife would have approved. She bought me an orange safety vest years ago for such cautionary riding. I doubt though that people associate me with it, as it is still in its plastic case in a closet.

Rube that I am, I stood out, or rode around, like a grape in the bowl of grapefruit. All in yellow went they riding, while I had a purple shirt and in cotton too.

yellow Motobecane

I remarked to a few of them I encountered that it seemed like a cycling gang with all the yellow jackets. It took them several beats before the realized. I don’t think they see the yellow anymore, but I am sure my noticed my grapeness.

I took a loop that was a little under an hour up into and down from Carlisle. I extended it more toward Chelmsford to cut into my 90 minutes.

With a few expectations, the yellow guys were pleasant. A couple insisted on passing me. I an old guy and really don’t get wound up about that. Amusingly enough though, some cyclists remain very competitive, and both these guys didn’t have the stamina to keep up the pace they set to get by me. I’d just say, “Passing on the left,” on the way by them.

So from the burbs, I learned that I need to complain more. I should demand more of circumstances and feel put upon more frequently. Oh, and if I want to fit in with the cyclists, it’s not enough to have a yellow bike, which I do. I need to dress in the old-man gang colors.

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